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Cities & States Welcome $5 Billion Federal Grant to Fight Homelessness

President Joe Biden will be making housing and homelessness a central focus of his administration.

(CN) --- The prospect of nearly $5 billion from the Biden administration to combat homelessness is a welcome one to cities and states fighting a prolonged homeless crisis made worse by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, roughly 580,000 people were homeless on a given night last year. This represents a 7% increase from the previous year and does not factor in any of the financial turmoil that spiraled out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Biden administration has made housing and homelessness a priority: the roughly $5 billion in grant funding announced this month is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and will go toward creating affordable housing and services for homeless people or at risk of losing their homes.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said during a Friday press call the Biden administration has “acted swiftly and aggressively to protect and support people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.”

“With this robust funding, along with additional emergency rental vouchers that HUD will soon announce, communities across the country will have the resources needed to give homes to the people who have had to endure the Covid-19 pandemic without one,” said Fudge.

During the call, state and local leaders championed the Biden administration's response and explained what grant funding can do for their regions.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said spending in response to the homeless crisis has tripled since she took office in 2017. In early 2020, volunteers counted over 11,700 homeless people in Seattle and King counties --- a 5% increase from the previous year.

Durkan said the local dollars Seattle spends don't come close to the federal dollars the city uses to shore up its housing and homeless services. Under the supplemental funding plan, known as HOME funds, Seattle will receive $12.2 million.

“It’s time for us now to move this to the front burner,” Durkan said of her city’s response to the homeless crisis. “In Seattle, recently we have taken some important steps, capitalizing on the downturn in the real estate market to add more affordable housing for our neighbors experiencing homelessness."

Colorado Governor Jared Polis called the HOME grant funding a real shot in the arm that provides a "local flexibility" for local government agencies.

"We know the best investment to help people," said Polis.

In California, the homeless population exploded in the last year with over 66,400 homeless people counted in LA County in January 2020 and more than 8,000 in San Francisco.

Both San Francisco Mayor London Breed and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said the funding will go a long way to address the housing and mental health crisis facing their cities.

“We have to end America's addiction to poverty," Garcetti said during Friday's call. He cited the success of California’s Project Roomkey which started during the pandemic and houses people living on the streets in leased hotels and motels.

But the growing homeless crisis in the Golden State has illustrated that funding alone can't solve the problem.

LA's response has been anything but commendable, according to a federal judge who this week ordered officials to offer housing to every person living on the street in the downtown neighborhood known as Skid Row by October. U.S. District Judge David Carter --- who is overseeing a lawsuit filed by a group of business owners and tenants who claim LA's response to the homeless crisis has been a disaster --- lambasted LA officials for squandering the opportunity to house people despite a robust stream of federal and state dollars.

In his 110-page ruling, Carter noted the population of people living on the street has far outpaced any attempt LA has made to build new housing or temporary shelter space. Both the city and county have appealed Carter’s decision, arguing government agencies must respond to the housing crisis on their own terms without judicial intervention.

Biden's plan gives the city of LA $99 million to combat homelessness.

In total, HUD will issue 651 grants to tribal areas, states and local governments. The push is to ensure that the federal government prioritizes housing for everyone.

“We have decided that housing is infrastructure,” said U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, during the call. “Housing is a right.”

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